Capital Reality

December 15th, 2017

I just finished reading a quite brilliant book, Lifestorming by Alan Weiss and Marshall Goldsmith. Marshall reminds the reader of one of his most powerful learning points from arguably one of the smartest minds over the past century, American businessman, Peter Drucker. I smiled when I reflected upon how frequently I am asked to correct this behaviour in my own work, particularly amongst entrepreneurs and private equity investors building businesses.

An excessive amount of time is wasted

  • Trying to prove how right we are (brilliant idea, investment decision-taking) and how good we are (vanity) with ourselves and our key constituents when the real objective should be to maximise the positive difference we are able to make in the life we choose to lead, and the world we live in.
  • Trying to control events or issues where we have ceded or have zero power over the outcome.

The private equity or venture investor doesn’t have to invest. The entrepreneur doesn’t have to accept the investment. When they do accept majority investment, the entrepreneur ceases to have the ultimate decision-making power. Don’t whine or somehow think you retain superpowers, you really don’t, concentrate on making a positive difference within those constraints. If you don’t like the constraints, let it go and move on. The same applies to capricious General Partners feeling that the private equity model is underappreciated in the wider world or when power has shifted from their investee businesses to their customers or competitors.

A case in point, yesterday’s headline sale to Disney of large chunks of the Murdoch empire, is just that recognition that the Murdochs cease to have the power to positively impact their family’s and their assets’ future within the constraints laid down (market competition). Letting go is a common sense response, nothing more.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Blockchain in Soccer: A Solution Chasing A Problem

December 14th, 2017

 

Last week, the gregarious Ian Stafford, a colorful figure in global sports, hosted a US sports agency pitching the merits of blockchain in soccer to industry figures and investors at the London Sporting Club. The power of tech to unpick the corrupt, opaque and obscure world of nefarious player contracts, agents and clubs is the premise. Yet like many articulate promoters of distributed ledgers and their  transformative value, the sports agents are visibly overcoming by the tech euphoria but are guilty of overlooking the “cause”, naked avarice. A human condition that first and foremost, is about a warped belief system, “I can take out of the system, more than I put in and no one will nail me for it.” Perhaps that worked for Buggsy Malone but blockchain isn’t the answer. It is publicly naming and shaming those villains, who transgress the rules, imposing huge financial penalties and prison sentences.  Then and only then, will soccer earn the trust and respect from those inside and outside the industry.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Hot Bitcoin

December 13th, 2017

If the intent of bitcoin is to create a currency free of manipulation and central bankers connivance. One that is built on implicit trust. Am I alone in concluding after recent events that its’ sole purpose is to create a speculators paradise and a mortuary for mug investors? Well done to those, who have ridden the “wave” but to think serious investors and organisations will cash out of greenbacks, euros or yen in significant volumes anytime soon, is just ridiculous.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Truly Connected

November 21st, 2017

Why does the size of a great many people’s personal networks (number of LinkedIn connections, Instagram followers etc.) say more about their own self-worth than the value they actually confer? If the objective is to build and cultivate an increasing number of peer-level trusting relationships and offer people of interest impressive value that cannot be done anonymously in cyberspace.

I recall an experience with a London-based recruiter keen to impress me with his Global Private Banking and UHNW wealth management connections and return a favour. “If you’d like my help, have a look at my LinkedIn connections and let me know, who I can introduce you to.” After reluctantly following his approach and mentioning three names, he immediately responded, “Sorry they don’t know me well or they’ll confuse you with my candidate work.” We settled on another one at his suggestion, a rather prickly character, running a private investment office with a venerable European family background. “Go and see him, I’m sure it will be a valuable use of your time”.

Five minutes into the meeting, it was abundantly clear that the investor had close to zero relationship with the executive search partner and that in offering the introduction, the recruiter was clueless about the investor’s needs. Indeed, I’d hazard a guess that of the recruiter’s 2000+ LinkedIn connections, perhaps only 15 know him well and he has a contemporary understanding of their needs.

This isn’t exclusive to the executive search sector. I have had recent examples with highly successful Board Chairs, private equity partners, bankers and corporate executives, who are conciously obsessing about the size of their networks, largely for their own ego trip. However when you press hard or follow through, you find 80% of the people in their network, really don’t know them that well, today, or at all.

Don’t assume someone is “truly connected”, however impressive their “past” or the size of their network. Ask for recent examples of highly similar introductions and the results that arose. Listen, do your own homework and make your own judgement.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

UK National Business Awards 2017 Re-cap

November 17th, 2017

Brains, beauty and entrepreneurial endeavour were celebrated on a searingly loud night at the Grosvenor House Hotel on London’s Park Lane, a passing resemblance to X Factor.

When “Lords, Ladies and commoners” were asked to take their seats, Sir Mo Farah burst onto the stage and broke the first royal protocol, telling us the private thoughts of The Queen at his knighthood ceremony earlier in the day. “Aren’t you retired?” Well not quite, we might see him on the final day in Tokyo 2020 chasing a marathon gold.

On a day that awards host, UBM, announced impressive half yearly figures, we learned the secret of their success, maximising profit per square foot. PR supremo and philanthropist, Charles Watson, media lawyer Mark Stephens (without his former WikiLeaks client, Julian Assange) and an eclectic crowd including me were squeezed onto a tiny table that resembled the docks at Sassoon Fish Market in Mumbai.

Three personal favourites among the tremendous British entrepreneurial success stories recognised on the night.

Bill Holmes and his business, Radius Payment Solutions, winner of the Inflexion Private Equity Entrepeneur of the Year Award (I was a judge this year). Chislehurst-born Bill has created a gargantuan global fuel card and telematics business – current sales close to £1.5 billion – over 25 years. He has given countless employees life experiences and wealth opportunities beyond their wildest dreams while being a huge benefactor for a multitude of community issues in the firm’s hometown, Crewe, in the UK’s northwest region. To top that he has brought up two wonderful daughters, who are in their early twenties are pursing their own passions with great success and energy.

Children’s food pioneer, Annabel Karmel who is a walking and talking example of taking a life-changing experience and doing something meaningful with it. Not content with being a celebrated author, adviser, marketeer and creator of innovative products, Annabel is set to bring healthy kids food and beverages to the Chinese. Having listened yesterday to Henrietta Lovell revealing the secrets of The Rare Tea Company’s marketing success selling tea to the Chinese – unprecedented trust and integrity – you would be brave to bet against Annabel doing the exact same thing.

At the other stage of entrepreneurial life, two family friends of mine, Sara and Maria Trechman, and their business, Well and Truly were winners of The Duke of York’s New Entrepreneur of The Year Award. Barely 1 year old, their business is creating amazing all natural snacks and is an object of huge interest amongst UK, and I confidently predict, global retailers. Perhaps The Duke had other priorities this week but I bet it won’t be long before he is looking for the glamorous photo opportunity (without the dodgy lighting). Well done too to my Aunt Alice, who had the fortitude to follow her instinct and back them in their first raise!

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Idiotic Management: HSBC Lounge Key

November 14th, 2017

In the rush to offer enhanced value to HSBC’s Premier customers, their Privileges Programme boldly announces a partnership with LoungeKey, a tech-driven airline lounge access provider. You are encouraged to register through multiple channels. Try doing it through mobile in the UK, and at the sixth attempt, you are denied. You are then directed to an online page, to try to figure out an alternative. Sorry, we don’t have the time. Has HSBC’s management ever shopped this partnership? If they have, they must concur that the user experience is a classic example of a failed partnership between a tech platform and an incumbent. If they haven’t, they are idiots.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

A Vulnerable Seller

November 13th, 2017

Here is something counter-intuitive for a great many sellers of high-growth and mid-market privately-held businesses. If you want to maximise the price on exit, you need to maximise your vulnerability. Yet most sellers have spent years doing the exact opposite.

Vulnerability is largely a function of a seller’s self-worth (“I won’t allow the sale outcome to influence how I think about myself”), giving yourself permission to be vulnerable and the quality of your support system (friends, family, advisers and acquaintances). Hence any transition plan in the lead up to the start of the exit process, needs to address all three aspects, in advance, alongside:

  • Any fractured personal relationships (spouse/partner/family members)
  • Any past, present or future “private promises” made by the business to fellow shareholders, managers and family members (financial or no-financial)
  • Any private grievances (key clients, key business partners, key suppliers) or events (disputes, potential regulatory breaches etc.) that might reasonably give the buyer cause for alarm in due diligence or god forbid, post-sale.

You are rightly proud of the business that you have built. You have had proprietary control of the reins (people, capital, resources). Your control has given you power (discretionary authority) and protection (preeing eyes). The “4 P’s”. Now a buyer (strategic or financial) is being asked to make an informed judgement on the value of your business to their ideal future. What is the sum of your pride, your proprietary control, your power and your protection worth to them?

A buyer can rarely understand it (quality of your people and management, quantum of uncertainty, competitive threats) clearly without you being voluntarily vulnerable (trust). You cannot negotiate successfully without putting yourself in a position of vulnerability (willing at any point to walk away from a proposed deal), irrespective of the  consequences (financial, non-financial, business or personal). That requires a mix of internal and external attention as early as possible in the transition process. If appropriate, hiring someone, who has successfully dealt with those issues in their own business and who can help navigate you through the process. Almost certainly, not an internal figure, nor your corporate finance adviser. Someone, whose skills, behaviours and expertise are strongly aligned to your discrete personal and business needs.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

It Is Really Not About You

November 10th, 2017

 

Why do so many seasoned, and less seasoned entrepreneurs seeking to attract new investment shoot themselves in the foot? They are rarely short of industry knowledge but they are woefully lacking the process skills and critical thinking to attract serious investors. Acquiring investment is about investors. An investor validating their own judgement, no one else’s.

Yet all I here at the outset, is how great the entrepreneur’s business skills and judgement are, wrapped up in their business model and growth plans.

When I push back and ask, “what” (strategy) have/are you doing to help your ideal investor validate their own skills and judgement after they are done with your investment? I am invariably met by a blank stare. That is compounded by my supplemental question, “how” (tactics) have/are you planning to help your ideal investor validate their own skills and judgement when they are done with your investment?

In the absence of a strategy and tactics for creating powerful, sustainable and profitable partnerships with  investors, an entrepreneur’s mission will never be met and manifest. Here is three powerful lessons from my most successful clients:

  1. Raising, deploying and realising capital is a “process”, not a small number of events. It has a “before” (trust, relationship building, conceptual agreement culminating in agreed terms), “during” (effective implementation, impressive value creation, robust risk mitigation) and “after” (planned disengagement, rapid realisation of committed capital plus impressive gains, efficient remittance of resources). Or to put it crudely, cash and resources “in”, cash and resources “out” / time period.
  2. Timing has a “hierarchy of priorities”. (1) the investor’s financial, intellectual, social and cultural needs (most only think about the first need and rarely consider how those are changing in the lifetime of the investment), (2) the availability of an appropriate exit to ensure the investor’s objectives are met and (3) the  future of the business.
  3. They think and act like a successful investor. An investor thinks with logic but acts on emotion, although in some cases the latter might be as heard to discern as Robert Shaw’s face in that infamous card game on the smoke-filled train carriage to Chicago, in my personal favourite, The Sting.

Uncovering The Investor’s Logic and Emotional Reasoning

  1. The reward logic behind the deal. How might it meet or exceed the investor’s need for capital preservation and capital gain, the return on the investor’s intellectual time invested, the social impact met and the cultural benefits accrued (for example, greater affinity with like-minded investors)?
  2. The risk logic behind the deal. What is the seriousness and probability of foreseen and unforeseen obstacles with the deal preventing the investor meeting or exceeding their desired outcomes? Then, what preventative and contingent actions can realistically be applied to arrive at the deal’s “ultimate net risk”?
  3. The sum of the above is the investor’s “great deal” logically. We are not finished yet!
  4. The emotional rewards behind the deal. How might the emotional imperatives of the investor (“reward”) be transformed (repute, peer recognition, trusting relationship with the General Partners and co-investors, promotion prospects, larger bonus and share of carried interest, ego, greater responsibilities, career development, future capital made available, new fund created, more impressive future dealflow presented and so on)?
  5. The emotional risks behind the deal. What is the seriousness and probability of foreseen and unforeseen obstacles with the deal preventing the investor meeting or exceeding those desired outcomes? Then, what preventative and contingent actions can realistically be applied to arrive at the deal’s “ultimate net risk”?
  6. The sum of the above is the investor’s “great deal” emotionally. That is what they are going to make their final decision based on. Are you investing sufficient time and energy in the right area? Are you thinking it through smartly? My guess is most entrepreneurs are spending 90% of their time on the logical reasoning and perhaps 10% on the emotional reasoning when it probably needs to be inverse. Why would you do that?

The smart readers will quickly grasp that a PowerPoint deck or teaser is largely worthless at addressing the latter. You need absolute credibility. You need to take time to build a peer-level trusting relationship. You need to ask powerful questions in a way that the investor is willing to reveal his or her priorities. The shorter the question, the more the investor will reveal. It crystallises it for them. “What are your hopes? Why? What are you fearful of? How did you get to your position?” Frame the question, listen and follow up in a smart way. You cannot coerce or motivate them.

Your job, as an entrepreneur, is to aggregate and connect the dots for the investor. To convert, the credibility and seductive rapport into committed capital with the use of powerful language and a compelling interface for the  investor.

After reading this you may very well panic and spot a yawning gap in your skills and techniques. That is OK, find an entrepreneur, who has done what you successfully seek to do and who can translate and transfer it to you.

A word of warning, a great many advisers don’t qualify, nor do a great many entrepreneurs, who are inept at the translation and transference. Hire qualified advice sparingly.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Transformation of Sports Betting

October 25th, 2017

A recent conversation with one of the most colourful characters in global sports betting, Harry Findlay, reminded me how rarely most entrepreneurs have a truly transformative idea.

The advent of betting exchanges, in particular Betfair, has had a 3-dimensional impact on European bookmakers (margins – the profit on every transaction; velocity – the speed at which they collect cash; volumes – traded bets).

Today’s sports betting business resembles a fraying rope, at one end, the commodity or mass market giants, Bet365 and Paddy Power Betfair dominate with huge marketing budgets driving increasing mobile betting volumes amongst the £5-£10 recreational players. At the other lie a small number of “premium” boutiques and large international (Asia) betting firms, competing on differentiated service and a volition to “lay” a £1,000+ bet.

Mass-market sports betting is akin to retail supermarkets. High volume, low margin and viciously cut throat competition will prevail over the next 3 years.

The “premium” player end is no less competitive. The need for scale, a powerful brand, the passion and competency to deliver a high-touch premium customer experience and a competitive balance sheet will defeat many of today’s incumbents. Too small, too niche, too busy prioritising commodity players and too weak.

Yet the sports betting industry despite increased regulatory pressure, changes in societal mores and disruptive technology, doesn’t lack for wannnabe entrepreneurs. Most though never end up with anything more than a small business. There is a pressing need today to think bigger.

The big opportunity in sports betting is not in isolation, a rival trading platform to Betfair. The transformative idea is a business that is able to transform the market size exponentially, professionalise it and turn it into an institutional quality, alternative investment class. That’s why businesses such as Stratagem, Smartodds and Starlizard are an object of serious interest to investors, outside the confines of the professional gambler’s lair.

The naysayers decry the randomness of sports results, to support their argument that this will never happen. What is not random about catastrophic Gulf hurricanes, Mexican earthquakes and California wildfires?

Parallels can be found with the way that insurance risk was “trapped” amongst insurance and reinsurance players upto the late 1990s. Offering non-correlated risk to professional investors and healthy yields, today close to 20% of the total pie is now diverted to the capital markets via insurance linked securities. Why should sports betting risk be “trapped” amongst existing incumbents with relatively small balance sheets?

Just as with insurance risk, the evolution requires a business with

  1. Discernible and practical value. Superior data and analytics to turn data into information, information into knowledge and ultimately, knowledge into wisdom consistent with the investor’s strategic goals.
  2. A clear, accurate idea of the professional investors of today and tomorrow?
  3. The intellectual firepower to attract and retain professional players and investors (structuring and matching capital with risk)
  4. Intelligent pricing skills and judgement (quantitative and qualitative).
  5. Commitment to constant innovation and reinvention (new products, new markets, new technology and new relationships)

Perhaps that is one of the above businesses or an entrepreneur quietly making waves but yet to attract the glare of media attention. Either way, the sports betting industry is primed for dramatic reinvention just not in the manner most market observers have presumed.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Interview With Me: Forbes

October 25th, 2017

In a recent interview with Forbes contributor,  Chris Cancialosi, James touches upon the often hidden price of entrepreneurship, the mental consequences and self-worth issues that bedevil even the most seasoned entrepreneurs, irrespective of the business size.

The Quiet Price of Entrepreneurship

https://www.forbes.com/sites/chriscancialosi/2017/10/18/the-quiet-price-of-entrepreneurship/

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.